vrijdag 26 juni 2015

Gram Parsons’ 20 Best Songs Tom Pinnock

Gram Parsons’ 20 Best Songs Tom Pinnock June 26, 2015 The country-rock pioneer's greatest tracks… image: http://keyassets.timeincuk.net/inspirewp/live/wp-content/uploads/sites/28/2015/06/gramparsonssongs.jpg gramparsonssongs Though he passed away aged just 26, Gram Parsons didn’t mess around while he was here – a member of The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers and The International Submarine Band, he also found time to make two sublime solo albums and partly invent country-rock as we know it. Here, Uncut present 20 of his best songs… Originally published in our February 2013 issue (Take 189). Words: Graeme Thomson ________________________ 1 HICKORY WIND The Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, 1969/Grievous Angel, 1974 Written with former ISB bandmate Bob Buchanan and debuted by The Byrds at the Grand Ole Opry on March 15, 1968, the beauty of Parsons’ signature song lies in its simple sincerity. The poignancy in the words, voice, aching steel guitar and fiddle – by sessioneers Lloyd Green and John Hartford – evoke almost unbearable nostalgia for a time of remembered innocence. “A lonely song”, said Chris Hillman. “He was a lonely kid.” ________________________ 2 BRASS BUTTONS Grievous Angel, 1974 Constructed with the precision of a Tin Pan Alley standard and sung almost to himself, “Brass Buttons” was written in the mid-’60s but not recorded until 1973. James Burton weaves empathetic guitar lines over a painfully intimate portrait of Parsons’ mother Avis, an alcoholic who died from cirrhosis in 1965. Is there a more devastating line in his songbook than: “And the sun comes up without her/It just doesn’t know she’s gone”? ________________________ 3 $1000 WEDDING Grievous Angel, 1974 The sorry tale of a groom left waiting at the altar, the nine-minute original version – rejected by the Burritos in 1969 – made it explicit that the bride had “passed away”. The released version is more ambiguous. The opening piano figure is deceptively lush, the mood stately, the structure unconventional. And while Parsons’ voice ripples with emotion his writing possesses the cool clarity of a classic American short story. 4 HOT BURRITO #1 The Gilded Palace Of Sin, 1969 Perhaps his greatest ever vocal (wobbly but devastating), married to a supple melody and lyrics that tread a convincingly torturous path between bravado, bitterness and naked need. Parsons’ organ and “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow’s pedal steel, meanwhile, fleetingly recall the grandeur of Procol Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”. This lacerating account of emotional surrender was retitled “I’m Your Toy” in Elvis Costello’s 1981 version. ________________________ 5 SHE GP, 1973 Written with Chris Ethridge, the jazzy, laidback and somewhat hesitant structure is lifted by a honky-tonkin’ middle eight anchored by Ric Grech’s thudding bass. An evocative, impressionistic story of an unconventional, possibly inter-racial love affair down in the Delta, it’s a sweet love letter to a woman who, over and above all her other talents and woes, “sure could sing”. ________________________ 6 WILD HORSES Burrito Deluxe, 1970 Debate rumbles on regarding the extent of Parsons’ contribution to Jagger & Richards’ country ballad. Mick recalls that “we sat around originally doing this with Gram”, while his brother Chris reckons, “it’s basically Gram’s composition, not that he got any credit for it.” Although already recorded by the Stones, the Burritos were allowed to release their faithful, fragile version first. Leon Russell contributes a barnstorming piano solo. 7 THE NEW SOFT SHOE GP, 1973 A smoother, somewhat more contemporary take on the country-rock theme – you could easily imagine the Eagles covering this on their early albums – “The New Soft Shoe” marries a lovely unhurried melody to a pleasingly evasive lyric which seems to portray a lifetime’s worth of labours of love, cherished memories and missed chances. Al Perkins’ steel guitar solo is like sunlight skipping on water. ________________________ 8 HOW MUCH I’VE LIED GP, 1973 A rogue’s mea culpa, also later recorded by Costello on Almost Blue. A spry little number which would have suited George Jones to a T, James Burton’s twanging dobro and Buddy Emmons’ steel guitar do most of the heavy lifting before the chorus explodes in a sunburst of gilded harmony, a sound thrillingly at odds with the lyric’s deep shade of “burning blue”. ________________________ 9 LUXURY LINER Safe At Home, 1968 An upbeat, frill-free slice of chicka-boom rhythm, close-knit harmony and sing-song pedal steel, the symbolic train of American music folklore here becomes “40 tons of steel”, the opulence only highlighting the predicament of a fellow who made “a living running round”. His baby’s gone, but there’ll be another waiting in the next port. Later the title track of Emmylou Harris’ 1977 album. 10 ONE HUNDRED YEARS FROM NOW Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, 1968 Truly, the promise of Cosmic American Music realised: the mood is country, the bottom end is pulsing rock, the harmonies are classic Byrds, and the lyrics hint at satisfyingly vague profundity. Parsons’ original lead vocal was removed by Roger McGuinn before Sweetheart was released, and only reinstated on the 1990 Byrds boxset. ________________________ 11 WHEELS The Gilded Palace Of Sin, 1969 Lazy roadhouse piano and campfire harmonies dominate on a Hillman-Parsons number that manages to be both an ode to the uncomplicated joys of the open road (“We’re not afraid to ride”) and a reaffirmation of Parsons’ religious faith. Notable for its easy slide into the mid section and a great fuzzbox guitar, like a truck steaming around the bend. ________________________ 12 STILL FEELING BLUE GP, 1973 The opening song on GP pulls off that country trick of making heartache sound like the greatest thing in the world, driven by Byron Berline’s fiddle, Ronnie Tutt’s rattling brushwork and jaunty banjo. In her first recorded Gram outing, Emmylou Harris simply soars on her chorus parts. 13 RETURN OF THE GRIEVOUS ANGEL Grievous Angel, 1974 A wonderfully vivid song of experience which is almost Whitmanesque. Parsons’ dusty prodigal returns to his woman filled with memories of “the truckers… the kickers and the cowboy angels”. A free-flowing torrent of a song, lit up by Glen D Hardin’s gorgeous piano. ________________________ 14 IN MY HOUR OF DARKNESS Grievous Angel, 1974 A premonition in song? The verse about a young country singer with a “silver-string guitar” creeps ominously close to self-mythology. Future Eagle Bernie Leadon contributes dobro on this rousing hymn to those who have passed, and Linda Ronstadt adds vocals. ________________________ 15 OOH LAS VEGAS Grievous Angel, 1974 The flipside of Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas”, which seems entirely apt. Elvis’ TCB band played on GP and Grievous Angel, and here it really shows: there’s a touch of “Guitar Man” in the good-time groove and James Burton’s scorching licks. It’s a losing-streak lament (“crystal city…gonna make a wreck out of me”) from a gambler who sounds like he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. 16 A SONG FOR YOU GP, 1973 Several of Parsons’ greatest songs echo the age-old gospel plea to “sing me back home”, few more movingly than this searching, spiritual love letter to God, a woman and America itself. It is a delicate creation: Harris is a distant, almost ghostly voice, Glen D Hardin’s organ bubbles warmly in the background, and Parsons seems heartbreakingly lost. ________________________ 17 THE DARK END OF THE STREET The Gilded Palace Of Sin, 1969 A crackling version of Dan Penn’s dark Southern Soul staple: loose, funky, racked and slightly raucous. Between hot-wire guitar licks and a Byrdsy solo, Parsons and Hillman channel The Everly Brothers, throwing the words “you and me” back and forth in a soulful game of pass the parcel. ________________________ 18 BLUE EYES Safe At Home, 1968 The blissfully old-fashioned opening track on ISB’s only album pivots on a classic Parsons conceit: the indignities of life leavened by the simple pleasures of having “a pretty girl to love me with the same last name as mine”. Sailing happily above the counter-culture, it may be the most carefree song he ever wrote, with its catchy chorus and almost indecently busy steel guitar. 19 WE’LL SWEEP OUT THE ASHES IN THE MORNING GP, 1973 Written by Joyce Allsup, this 1969 almost-hit for Carl & Pearl Butler is faithfully revisited as a duet by Parsons and Emmylou Harris, her crystalline certainty anchoring his more wayward vocals. A song about battling the illicit thrill of “stolen love” and “wild desire”, it almost certainly carried personal resonance for the pair. ________________________ 20 SIN CITY The Gilded Palace Of Sin, 1969 This superb Hillman-Parsons country-gospel ballad features Gram as Travis Bickle in a Nudie suit, toting a guitar rather than a gun and painting a ravaged portrait of a decaying LA. Though heavy with the old-time religious doomsaying of The Louvin Brothers, it also takes very modern sideswipes at consumerism and the record business. The man come to “clean up this town” is Bobby Kennedy, assassinated not long before. Read more at http://www.uncut.co.uk/news/gram-parsons-20-best-songs-69257/2#8RhyDRchLqbcTbfm.99 Read more at http://www.uncut.co.uk/news/gram-parsons-20-best-songs-69257/2#8RhyDRchLqbcTbfm.99 Read more at http://www.uncut.co.uk/news/gram-parsons-20-best-songs-69257#PxOGQDzbYqr1EASd.99

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